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Can we allow nature to regenerate without intervention?

Biodiversity loss is a complex issue involving many overlapping processes. While nature can recover when left to do so, it requires dramatic changes in our behaviour for this to happen. Creating large, protected areas is not practical in many landscapes as our lives are so entwined with nature. Instead, it will require better management of natural resources and landscapes.

When allowed to regenerate naturally, forests and grasslands can become home to higher levels of biodiversity than those that have been planted by humans, although in some places like the UK even ancient forest which is now recognised as a haven for biodiversity was originally planted or managed by people. Well-informed management can do better than nature when the areas for regeneration are limited. 

According to some estimates, however, an additional 35% of land area will need protection on top of the 15% already protected if further biodiversity loss is to be avoided. Setting aside that much land may be challenging as humanity is estimated to be overusing our planet's resources to the point where we will need 1.6 Earths to meet our demands sustainably. There is much debate on where those additional protected areas should be.

If we want ecosystems to persist and regenerate, we will need to give them a helping hand by finding ways of living and working alongside nature. To do this, systematic conservation planning will be needed at both regional and global scales to preserve biodiversity. Fisheries too will need to be managed in more sustainable ways. 

Science plays a very significant role in identifying and developing the best ways to help. Growing crops in more land-efficient and water efficient ways can help to ease the pressure on biodiversity. Techniques such as precision farming and targeted fertiliser application can reduce the environmental footprint of farming in some regions. 

Implementing nature-based measures that restore natural ecosystems can also benefit human populations and help to tackle climate change by, for example, storing carbon. Some ecosystems have healthy biodiversity thanks to land management by local people rather than in spite of it. Techniques employed by indigenous peoples in Australia, Brazil and Canada – such as using plants that are best suited to promote natural regeneration and the recovery of species after an area of forest has been used for cultivation – have been found to sustain high levels of biodiversity by reducing deforestation and habitat degradation. 

To find out more visit: Why efforts to address climate change through nature-based solutions must support both biodiversity and people | Royal Society; Demographic trends and policy options | Royal Society; Preserving global biodiversity requires rapid agricultural improvements | Royal Society

Find answers to 16 key questions about biodiversity

  • Introduction

    At its simplest, biodiversity describes life on Earth – the different genes, species and ecosystems that comprise the biosphere and the varying habitats, landscapes and regions in which they exist. We've answered some of your most popular questions about biodiversity.

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  • What is biodiversity?

    Biodiversity is all the living things on our planet – from the smallest bacteria to the largest plants and animals. So far, we have identified around 1.6 million species but that is probably only a small fraction of the forms of life on Earth.

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  • Why is biodiversity important?

    Biodiversity is essential for the processes that support all life on Earth, including humans. Without a wide range of animals, plants and microorganisms, we cannot have healthy ecosystems.

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  • How do we measure biodiversity?

    There is still much we do not know about the complexity of biodiversity on Earth. There are a number of ways that we measure it, with counting species the most common approach.

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  • What is the scale of biodiversity loss?

    The list of known recent extinctions is still a small fraction of all species on the planet but it is far above prehuman levels and the evidence suggests it is rising fast.

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  • We regularly hear of new species being discovered - does that not offset the loss of existing species?

    Every year thousands of previously unknown species are discovered, described and named.

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  • Where is most biodiversity loss happening and why?

    Biodiversity loss has been most pronounced on islands and in specific locations around the tropics.

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  • Is the rate of biodiversity loss increasing or decreasing?

    Compared to the 1.6 million species known about on Earth, the number of recorded extinctions can seem very low.

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  • What is the state of biodiversity in the UK?

    The UK boasts more than 70,000 known species of animals, plants, fungi and microorganisms.

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  • How do humans affect biodiversity?

    Humanity impacts the planet's biodiversity in multiple ways, both deliberate and accidental.

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  • How does the growing global population and increasing consumption affect biodiversity?

    Since the middle of the 20th century, the human population has grown dramatically.

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  • How does climate change affect biodiversity?

    The environmental changes being driven by climate change are disturbing natural habitats and species in ways that are still only becoming clear.

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  • How does deforestation affect biodiversity?

    Forests contain some of the richest concentrations of biodiversity on the planet. But between 1990 and 2020, around 420 million hectares of mainly tropical forest has been lost.

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  • What can we do to protect biodiversity?

    Loss of natural habitats has been taking place over thousands of years, but scientists are confident that we have ways to help biodiversity recover.

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  • What can I do as an individual to protect biodiversity?

    While large scale changes in behaviour, policies and measures will be essential, individuals have a vital part to play.

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  • Can we allow nature to regenerate without intervention?

    Biodiversity loss is a complex issue involving many overlapping processes. While nature can recover when left to do so, it requires dramatic changes in our behaviour for this to happen.

    Read the full answer

  • How do we decide what is worth saving or putting our efforts into protecting?

    The value of the natural world can be interpreted in many ways, from their raw economic value to the inherent social, cultural and emotional benefits they provide.

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